Inviting Birds Into Your Garden

I was standing at my sink the other morning, when I saw it: this beautiful little bird, with black and white markings and a stunning yellow throat. It flitted about the garden for a few minutes before it disappeared into my grapefruit tree. Now, I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but I do know that seeing that bird absolutely delighted me. And so, I wanted to share with you some things you can do to invite birds into your own garden.

In some ways, it’s just common sense. Like every other creature, birds need three things: food, water, and shelter. If you can provide those things they will visit. Most likely, there are a vast variety of birds in your area; some are native while some may be ‘tourists,’ who stop for a bit on their annual migrations. All we need to do is figure out what tickles their fancy, and then provide it.

Food: Food for our wild birds comes from two sources. Either we provide the plants in the garden and/or we purchase food specifically designed for those birds. Starting with the plants, we need to take a moment to think about how that bird actually feeds. Does it have a long beak that needs to dip into nectar, such as a hummingbird? Or does it have a sharp little one that feasts on seeds and berries, such as a thrush? Then of course, there are the birds that feed on insects, making them the perfect form of pest control.

An important thing to consider is that the birds native to your area have evolved over the years to feed on the local plant life. If you want to support that population, research the plants that are found in your community and focus on planting those. Most of the plants I recommend below are ones native to Southern California, but related species of many can be found around the country.

Hummingbirds are extremely easy to please. Think long, tubular flowers: Any number of sages make great hosts, with Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) and Hummingbrid Sage (Salvia spathacea) being two of my favorites. Other great sources are Beard Tongue (Penstemon), Columbine ( Aquilegia), and Monkeyflower (Mimulus). Personally, I stay away from hummingbird feeders. Though there may be the rare exception, they are rather like feeding kids chocolate bars all day – lots of sugar, not much nutrition.

For birds that feed on seeds or berries, Currants (Ribes), Wild strawberry (Fragaria), or Manzanita (arctostaphylos) are great options. Most oaks (Quercus) are also great food sources, and the trees are absolutely spectacular in their grandeur. If you do decide to put out bird seed, make sure it is wild bird seed suited to the species in your area, and put that feeder up high, where the local cats can’t get to them. As for the insect eaters, you don’t need to do anything except be extremely cautious of using chemicals in your garden. After all, those little bugs we spray could be someone else’s lunch!

Water: Water is a treat in the garden, and not just for the birds. We all know how we respond to water, whether it is the bubbling of a fountain, or the silent mirror of a still pond. Birds really just need a tiny bit to drink and splash around in. If you are purchasing a fountain for your birds, consider buying one that has a lip or ledge to land on. You also can’t go wrong with the birdbaths. There is nothing more delightful than watching a couple of birds flitting and flirting in a birdbath. If you have a larger body of still water, consider adding mosquito fish as they are a nearly foolproof source of mosquito control.

Shelter: Finally, birds need a place where they can feel safe and build their nests. Trees are the optimum solution. If you don’t already have one, plant one! I must have a dozen families living in my grapefruit tree, and a hummingbird just set up housekeeping in my Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis). The other thing to consider is nesting material. Being the lazy gardener that I am, it is the perfect excuse to let my garden get a little messy. Twigs, leaves, and bits of dried grass make great stuffing. I’ve even heard stories of folks who’ve left out bits of yarn, fabric or twine for them.

So as you wander around your garden this weekend, cup of tea in hand, delighting in the bounty nature has to offer, think about the small things you can do to invite the birds into your garden. Then sit back and enjoy the party!

Poetic Plantings
Landscape Design